CRANFORD, NJ - The Westfield High School Blue Devils, fueled by a powerful offense, sealed a 15-4 victory over the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders in the semi-final round of the Union County Tournament Saturday afternoon at Memorial Field. A Blue Devils’ nine-run fourth inning put the game out of reach for the Crusaders.
The Blue Devils got things going in the bottom of the first, after holding Johnson to no runs in the top half of the inning. Following two singles and a walk, junior Chris Wagner doubled on a deep fly ball, scoring two runs to give Westfield a 2-0 lead.
Senior Kobi Wolf hit a fly ball deep to left field and out for a three-run home run, giving his team a 5-0 lead.
“To be honest, [Johnson] is really good on offensive, but their defense, I really think we exploited that today and their pitching, I think we exploited,” Wolf said. “We’ve been so solid all week and to be honest, I saw it coming.”
Junior Kevin Metz led off the second inning for Johnson with a double, and came around to score on an RBI double from senior Brendan Stanzione. The Crusaders cut the Blue Devils’ lead to 5-1. Two batters later, freshman Max Carmino connected for a single and an RBI, scoring Stanzione to make it a 5-2 game.
Westfield scratched across another run on an RBI groundout from Wagner, who drove in three runs for the Blue Devils. They held a 6-2 lead.
Stanzione and junior Anthony Caldiero both singled to put runners at first and second base to start the top of the fourth inning for Johnson. Three batters later, junior Zach Thornton reached on an error, allowing Stanzione to score, cutting the Westfield lead to 6-3.
With the tying run at the plate, the Crusaders couldn’t capitalize on another opportunity to cut into the Blue Devils’ lead. Westfield’s offense had a huge outburst to put the game out of reach.
Senior Matt LaCorte singled and came home after a double from junior Jake Lerie, making the Westfield lead 7-3. Two batters later, everything unraveled for the Crusaders. Junior Joe Turek tried a pickoff attempt at first base, but threw the ball past senior Connor Fayard, allowing Lerie to score, making the lead 8-3.
Junior Jake Vall-Lloberra subsequently drove in Wolf to make the game 9-3 Westfield. Two batters later, senior James Friel took a pitch and drove it far and gone for a two-run home run, increasing the lead to 11-3.
“We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve been throwing knockout punches,” Friel said. “We’re seeing the ball really well as a team and there’s a lot of passion that we have. You’ve seen Victor [Cruz] go down who’s one of our captains. We have a lot of passion and we’re playing for him.”
Senior Alex Pansini singled, driving home junior Steve Barden, the lead now 12-3. Lacorte doubled to bring home Barden, as the Blue Devils continued pouring it on, now up 13-3. Lerie followed with his first home run of the season, a two-run home run, making the game 15-3.
The game was called in the top of the fifth inning, with Westfield leading Johnson 15-4.
“We want to be [in the UCT Finals] every year, we’re a great team,” Lerie said. “In the last game against Clark, I think we underestimated them at first and we didn’t realize how strong of an offensive team they were, so today, we knew we had to hit the ball and score runs because we knew they were going to score runs and everything seemed to work out.”
Lerie went 2-for-4 with a double, the home run and three RBI’s.
“We had runners on base in every single inning,” Westfield head coach Bob Brewster, who recorded his 600th career win as manager on April 27, said. “In [the second inning], we had the bases loaded, we got one run. In the third, we had two runners on, we hit two pop-ups.
“The next inning, we just started hitting the ball and it was all the way through the lineup. It was contagious, the way they were swinging the bats,” Brewster said. “We hit the ball hard all day. I was very pleased about that.”
Despite the loss, the Johnson Crusaders look forward to their conference and the state playoffs that begin later in May.
“There’s a lot of baseball to play for,” ALJ head coach Dave Kennedy said. “We have a lot of good stuff ahead of us. We have nothing to be ashamed about today, we just got beat by a very good Westfield team.”
The Westfield Blue Devils (11-7) advance to the 2017 Union County Tournament Finals. They will play Cranford HS on Saturday, May 13 at Kean University.
Their next regular season game is Tuesday afternoon at home against Governor Livingston HS at 4:00 p.m.
The Johnson Crusaders (9-8) head out on the road to take on Metuchen HS Monday afternoon at 4:00 p.m.
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